Anxiety is prevalent in our society and continues to increase. In my work with the 17 to 40 year old age group, one of the main worries they express is a fear of the future. Each person faces the question, “What does my future hold?” And in this question is a modicum of uncertainty. Try as we might, we can never account for each variable in life. One person may worry and then do something about it, while the anxious person will deliberate and over-focus on the dilemma to the point of feeling overwhelmed.
With the group of people who are 17 to 25 years old, often coming the end of of high school or university, they ask themselves “What am I going to do now?”, “What will my future look like?”, or “Will I be able to make a good living for myself?”, and the even more heightened fear of “I have no idea what I’m going to do with my life!” These thoughts seem rational giving the transition stage of life they are in. The problem, however, is not the feeling that life is unpredictable right now, even though it certainly is! To me, the issue is a real fear of change. What I believe is often lacking is a healthy dose of self-esteem and confidence, which will motivate them to work at change. Those in this age group have often been groomed to believe, for example, that they will succeed in life if they have excellent academic marks. When that element of structure and grades are no longer relevant, their known safety net exposes them, and this is when their anxiety can take over their previous healthy thoughts.
With the 30 to 40-year age group, the “fear of the future” that I see in my counselling practice often stems from needing or wanting to make a significant change in their lives. For example, re-defining yourself after divorce, or craving an identity as a whole person with or without children, or wanting a work-life balance which may entail leaving a well-paying job. Like the 17 to 25 year old group, there was a known structure and identity such as work, marriage or parenting, which is needing to be shifted and produces the “fear of the unknown.” This signals a need to change the status quo, which can be unsettling.
In both groups, there is a spike in their anxiety caused by a need for change. Change is an activating energy – something needs to happen. People either feel stuck or motivated to do something. If you find yourself perseverating on making decisions, perhaps seeking out the opinions of others more than you normally might, or if you feel angry and make quick decisions to make change go away, this is signalling that change is overwhelming and your body feels anxious. The way to move through and decrease your anxiety is to face your fear.
Here are some tips to help you manage change:
- Slow things down, seek out support or advice from one or two trusted people (talking to too many people can be confusing and stops you from making a first step).
- Write down your current worries.
- From your list of worries, write down the top 1 to 3 things that you feel you can manage either by yourself or with support.
- Create an action plan. Take your 1 to 3 things and break each one down into manageable steps. For example, look up career counsellors, or look up divorce lawyers. Actually write the steps down, and don’t just think about them. Writing helps to release tension and decreases overthinking.
- Keep notes on what you research and add more ideas as they come to mind. This decreases rumination.
- Set a goal for the week and reward yourself in some small way. It will help keep you engaged in the process.
If you follow these simple steps, your anxiety will decrease, and over time you will be less reactive when life throws you a curve ball.